The Spaghetti Tree
Lucy Levene’s portrait ‘Family Portrait 1, St Francesca Cabrini Italian Church, Bedford, 2013′ (below) was selected for Portrait Salon 2013 and is part of her work entitled ‘The Spaghetti Tree’ about Italian communities in Bedford and Peterborough.
‘The Italian communities of Bedford & Peterborough formed in the 1950s as men were recruited from Southern Italy to supplement labour shortages in the local Brick industry. ‘The Spaghetti Tree’ is titled after the Panorama April fools day hoax documentary that aired on the BBC in 1957. At the time Britain was so unfamiliar with Italian culture that many were persuaded that spaghetti did indeed grow on trees. The Bedford & Peterborough communities have thrived over the years, however they have remained separate from the more financially established, older UK Italian communities of London & Scotland. These photos were taken between February 2013 and 2014 at Italian community events in both Bedford & Peterborough.’
‘The project was my response to a commission from the 1000 Words Magazine Photography Award. The award was part of a larger initiative that was supported by the EU Cultural Programme. As such, the subject matter was very specific. The photographers involved were invited to make work that would contribute to an archive that explored and documented the migration that occurred in the decades after WWII, from Southern to Northern Europe.’
‘As an outsider to these communities I took up the position of community photographer, attending events and providing portraits as mementos. I was interested in demonstrations of ‘community’ and of ‘family’ being played out in front of the camera. The project deals with some of the problems inherent in taking a documentary approach. The series consists of 48 images, within which the repetition of particular people, themes and motifs aims to draw attention to the means of construction as well as to the passing of time. Caught moments, staged and interrupted portraits as well as interiors are given equal weight, lending the work a disparate, cyclical feel. Beyond the various constructs of what it means to be ‘Italian’, the conventions of portraiture and the Italian ideal of ‘la Bella Figura’, families discompose, revealing their dynamics. Individuals concede, betraying desires, insecurities and nostalgias. Frustrated by the perfect image and its hermetic surface, I took these images at just the wrong moment; looking for a disruption, ‘a crack that lets the light in’. Using flash and its blanket reveal, I attempt some form of objective democracy. Yet, sitting between construction and documentary, as ever this work is highly controlled and constructed.’
‘Throughout the images, elements of the shoot are visible; the studio backdrop, harsh shadows from the flash and awkward perspectives all indicate my presence. As Federica Chiocchetti states in her essay, There’s Nothing Like Real, Home-grown Spaghetti ‘[The Spaghetti Tree] is a construction of the candid nature of an encounter.’ In subtly foregrounding elements of construction, I hope to encourage the reader to question the truth value of the documentary approach.’
Lucy Levene is a photographer based in London. She received her MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art in 2004. She is a recipient of the ‘1000 Words Photography Award 2012’ and was selected for the ‘Conscientious Portfolio Prize 2014’ by Jörg Colberg. The Spaghetti Tree will be included in an upcoming group show at Photofusion having been awarded the ‘Select/15 Bursary’.
James O Jenkins